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France wants trade talks suspended over spying

France called for a 'temporary suspension' in talks between the EU and the US over a free trade deal as the fallout from revelations that the US had spied on the French embassy as well as European Union offices continued on Wednesday.

France wants trade talks suspended over spying
Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

France wants the temporary suspension of talks on a huge EU-US free trade pact after allegations of widespread US spying on European offices, the French government's spokeswoman said on Wednesday. However Paris looks as though it is on a collision course with Berlin, with the German government saying the trade talks should go ahead as planned.

"This is not about stopping negotiations on the free trade agreement, but it does seem wise to temporarily suspend them, probably for a period of 15 days, to avoid controversy and to give time to obtain the requested information," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said after a cabinet session.

The call comes just a day after French president François Holland called for Europe to show a united front in response to the spying allegations.

"Europe must have a coordinated, common position on the requirements we need to come up with and the explanations we must ask for," Hollande said as he met his Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, in Paris.

On Tuesday Hollande said he believed EU nations must decide on a common position before the EU-US free trade talks take place.

SEE ALSO: Pressure mounts for France to grant Snowden asylum

However there was no sign on Wednesday of any common position being found as Germany insisted the EU-US trade talks should go ahead as planned.

"The (EU) Commission wants to start negotiations on July 8th, and in this it has the support of the German government," said the spokesman for the German Chancellor Steffen Seibert.

"We want this free trade agreement and we want to start the talks now," he said.

Seibert added that, in its dialogue with the United States, "Europe will find a way to discuss the issues that are very important to us, issues such as data protection and privacy".

Speculation has been mounting since the spying revelations broke that the trade talks could be in jeopardy. Earlier in the week European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the EU could not negotiate "if there is any doubt that our partners are bugging the offices of European negotiators", she said.

However EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters later on Wednesday: "We have agreed today the following: we are committed to the transatlantic
partnership" but want working groups to analyse the impact of US surveillance practices,  .

SEE ALSO: Snowden affair – Bolivians protest at French embassy in Le Paz'

 Barroso's office said he had ordered a full security sweep of all its premises worldwide.

And one European Union source said officials could not simply brush the allegations aside.

"This goes far beyond the requirements of national security," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is a breach of trust and we are at the beginning of something very serious."

Olaf Boehnke, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in Berlin believes suspending the talks would send the right message to Washington.

"The United States is too important to Europe to be treated like some kind of rogue nation like Iran or China but it would be a mistake for Europe if they just carried on with business as usual," Boehnke told The Local.

"European nations should not just allow the US to say 'ok it was a mistake it won't happen again'. It was a violation of civil liberties. To install bugging devices and wire taps in the offices of high ranking EU officials is a serious interference and there has to be consequences even if it's just a delay to the free trade talks."

"The US has a major interests in these negotiations. They are not just one sided," added Boehnke who believes France and Germany's divided stance over the Free talks may just be ploy.

"Maybe Merkel and Hollande are playing good cop bad cop with the United States," he said.

France has taken the lead in raising concerns over the spying revelations attributed to Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA).

Reports in the Guardian and Der Spiegel have detailed widespread covert surveillance by the NSA of EU offices, including diplomatic missions in Washington and at the United Nations in New York, as well as at the 28-member bloc's Brussels headquarters.

Germany and France both said the US ambassadors to their countries had been invited to discuss the issue.

On Monday, the French president said Paris had demanded answers from Washington about reports that the US National Security Agency (NSA) bugged European offices and embassies.

"We cannot accept this kind of behaviour between partners and allies," he told journalists during a visit to the western city of Lorient.

"We ask that this immediately stop," he added.

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 

READ ALSO:

The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?

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